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Science Strategy 2018-22

​(July 2018)science strategy cover.jpg

As the CEO of Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), I am delighted to present our Science Strategy 2018‒22. This strategy outlines how we will continue to provide excellent evidence-based scientific advice to inform decision making and to further align our work in the priority areas set by the ministers responsible for food regulation: reducing foodborne illness, promoting healthy eating and ensuring an agile and responsive regulatory system.
 
The food regulation system is complex and is the responsibility of national (Australia and New Zealand) and state and territory governments. Science is a key enabler of our performance, as described in our Corporate Plan 2018‒19. This strategy sets the overarching framework and provides a clear direction for our scientific activities.
 
Maintaining a clear strategic direction is particularly important in the current environment, given the increasing complexity of the food supply, significant changes in the diversity and source of food products and changing eating patterns of consumers. With increasing resource pressures, we cannot continue to expand and have to take a considered approach to maintaining our scientific capabilities so that we can keep pace with food science developments and new risks.
 
The aim of this strategy is consistent with previous science strategies: Developing and enhancing our scientific capabilities, tools and partnerships to meet current and future needs. This aim is achieved by implementing scientific activities in three strategic areas: scientific capabilities, evidence and collaboration. There are two strategic aims developed for each area.
 
As well as providing a clear strategic direction, this strategy enables us to draw on our current strengths. We place a high emphasis on providing high quality evidence-based scientific advice and our scientific expertise is viewed very positively.
 
I commend this document to our regulatory partners, the broader scientific community and other stakeholders.
 
 
 
Mr Mark Booth
Chief Executive Officer
July 2018
 

Vision statement  

FSANZ will advance regulatory science and is recognised as using the best available scientific evidence to inform decision making to achieve a safe food supply protecting and supporting the health of people in Australia and New Zealand.

Introduction

Our operating environment

The Australian and New Zealand food regulatory system was established to address the desire for a safe food system and to protect health and safety. Scientific experts in a range of disciplines support the system providing advice on the evidence required to make regulatory decisions.
 

Our Science Strategy outlines how we will enhance our scientific capabilities in food regulatory science, our tools and our partnerships. It positions us to respond effectively to the strategic challenges of a complex operating environment.

This is increasingly important because trends, such as new foods and production methods and the globalisation of the food chain, have changed the risks associated with foods.

This strategy is aligned with our Corporate Plan, which provides the overarching strategic framework and supports food regulation by building a high level of confidence in the quality and safety of food sold in Australia and New Zealand.

It also recognises the three priority objectives for the food regulation system set by the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum: reducing foodborne illness; supporting public health objectives; and maintaining a strong, robust and agile food regulation system.

How science supports our mission and core business

Science is identified as a key enabler in the Corporate Plan. The use of high quality science and robust evidence will enable us to achieve our mission to develop effective food standards in collaboration with the Australian and New Zealand governments and to effectively support the Australian and New Zealand food regulatory system into the future. When developing food standards, we must have regard to the need for standards to be based on risk analysis using the best available scientific evidence.
 
The Science Strategy 2018‒22 aims to build on our scientific strengths to complement, support and, where appropriate, lead food regulatory science in Australia and New Zealand.

Scope

The scope of the science strategy is broad. It identifies initiatives under three key strategic areas: scientific capability, evidence, and collaboration, and for each area, two strategic aims are described. These aims cut across all of our food regulatory science activities and all components of the risk analysis process, ensuring that, at all times, sound science underpins our risk management decisions.

The relationship between the three strategic areas of the science strategy 2018‒22, along with the strategic aims is illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Science Strategy Overview

Aim: Developing and enhancing our scientific capabilities, tools and partnerships to meet our current and future needs

science strategy 2018-22 - Figure 1 

 

Capacity, expertise and risk analysis methodologies

1. Improve scientific capability and expertise

2. Improve risk analysis processes and methodologies

Generation, collation, management and accessibility

1. Grow our capacity to generate and improve access to data and information
 
2. Improve our data collection, storage, analysis and reporting systems

Partnering and linking

1. Develop and maintain productive partnerships with key national and international organisations
2. Collaborate effectively with our stakeholders to share knowledge, advice and information

Strategic area 1: Scientific capability

Capacity, expertise and risk analysis methodologies

Aim 1: Improve scientific capability and expertise

We strive to position ourself in the contemporary food regulatory system as a trusted source of advice on food and a leader in our areas of expertise and to build on our core strengths of scientific and technical excellence in food risk assessment. This will ensure that we continually develop effective food regulatory measures based on sound science.

The current skill set of our scientific staff must continue to develop and expand to keep pace with new food regulatory issues and emerging technologies. The continued development of collaborative relationships and accessing external expertise in identified areas, is an important way in which we can meet both our capability and capacity needs.

Initiatives to achieve this strategic aim​ ​

Develop scientific capabilities and better utilise expertise in key scientific fields

​For this science strategy, we have identified a need for increased staff scientific capability and/or expertise in several key scientific fields including but not limited to: data science; new methodologies in chemical risk assessment, health economics; nutrition science; and emerging technologies.
Ensuring internal and external peer review of our scientific outputs, systems and practices We commission external peer reviews of key scientific risk assessments and other outputs (such as surveys). This may be done through individual experts or an expert panel or committee. We will continue to subject our scientific outputs and processes to peer review when needed, and in doing so further develop the tools used in our food regulatory science.
 

Key scientific fields

Data science
 
Data science encompasses a range of elements and techniques drawn from many different fields including information technology, statistics, epidemiology and mathematical modelling. Proficiency in these areas, particularly in the use of innovative tools and approaches for data collection, analysis and modelling, will enable us to extract and effectively use knowledge gained from data available to us. This will also support the implementation of our Data Management Strategy, as described under strategic area 2 (evidence).
 
New methodologies in chemical risk assessment
 
International harmonisation efforts have resulted in generally consistent approaches to risk assessment of chemicals in food, and additional tools and innovative methodologies will likely lead to new insights. We are working to continue to build our capability in areas including pharmacokinetic modelling, benchmark dose modelling and the use of quantitative structure activity relationships. Further validation, implementation and harmonisation in these areas will result in more consistent risk assessment outcomes to inform regulatory measures.
 
Health economics
 
Economics is an important discipline in decision making. The cost benefit framework of analysis ensures that the potential outcomes for various groups of various options are articulated and where possible quantified and compared. We recognise the importance of having staff with the requisite knowledge and expertise to ensure that the economic impacts of various options are adequately analysed and compared. For example, by understanding the value of avoiding various health outcomes and the cost of doing so we can better decide as a society on how to prioritise spending to maximise welfare.
 
Nutrition science
 
Nutrition science is a well established discipline influenced by ongoing research in the fundamental sciences of biochemistry and physiology, and advances in the omics disciplines of genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics. The relatively new disciplines of nutriomics and foodomics underpin the concept of ‘personalised’ nutrition to optimise health. We need to monitor advances in the well-established scientific disciplines relevant to nutrition science, and in the rapidly developing omics areas that may have a beneficial impact on public health.
 
Emerging technologies
 
New technologies can potentially lead to a new or increased risk in food. For example, technologies such as genetic modification of crops, nanotechnology or food irradiation could change the composition of the food or the way it is used. New technologies that replace an existing or traditional method of food production can also lead to a change in the potential hazard, for example, by increasing the levels of pathogenic microorganisms. As a result, we are continuing to improve our knowledge and expertise in the area of new technologies such as nanotechnologies, genomics, and new breeding techniques.

Aim 2: Improve risk analysis processes and methodologies

The risk analysis framework that we use to support its regulatory decision making is based on the model used by Codex, incorporating risk assessment, risk management and risk communication. This model is refined to reduce the regulatory burden on the food industry and to achieve a more fit-for-purpose approach to risk analysis. You can read more on our risk analysis web page.

We work collaboratively across Australia and New Zealand to conduct our role as an expert, science-based, risk analysis advisor to the food regulation system on a broad range of food-related issues and assessment of food related risks. The quality of the risk assessment is critical to the integrity and rigour of the risk management decisions. Therefore, it is essential that our risk analysis process reflects international best practice and that staff stay abreast of advances in the area.

This work enables us to deliver on the priority area to maintain a strong, robust and agile food regulation system that gives confidence to consumers that their food is safe, and that the system can manage new and innovative industry approaches.

 

 

Initiatives to achieve this strategic aim​ ​
Implementing a graduated approach to risk analysis
​Implementing our graduated risk analysis approach ensures the resources dedicated to our risk analysis activities are appropriately allocated and proportional to the risks being managed. It ensures appropriate alignment between the use of our resources and the mitigation of the food-related health risk, whilst ensuring high quality science that meets stakeholder expectations and is ‘fit-for-purpose’. The first case study for this work will be in Proposal 1024: Revision of the regulation of nutritive substances and novel foods.
Developing and refining the tools and methodologies used to undertake risk analysis
​Continual development and refinement of our risk analysis tools and methodologies will ensure that our food regulatory measures are supported by ample, high quality evidence.
During this period we will make improvements to our in-house modelling system, Harvest, to enable us to better assess dietary exposure to foodborne hazards. We will also evaluate and implement, where relevant, any new dietary exposure assessment methodologies into our work processes. Our newly developed food composition compilation program, Silo, will allow us to enhance reports on the composition of the Australian food supply.
We will also further develop tools to support regulatory economics such as a cost-of-illness model that will enable us to produce estimates of the cost of foodborne disease. This model is being developed by a collaboration of microbiologists and economists and could be extended to other food-related diseases in the future.
​Identify and evaluate additional sources of scientific evidence to help inform risk management decisions ​Evidence from the social and behavioural sciences can support the formulation of risk management options. We aim to continue to consider the use of other disciplines to provide insights. Where relevant we will refine the way this evidence is incorporated into the analysis of food-related health issues to inform regulatory decision making.
 

Strategic area 2: Evidence

Generation, collation, management and accessibility

Aim 1: Grow our capacity to generate and improve access to data and information

Over the years, we have collated a wealth of specialised food-related data and information, which has enabled us to position ourself as a trusted source of independent information and advice on food composition and food safety in Australia and New Zealand. This data is obtained from a variety of sources, including through a range of surveillance activities, conducted either alone or in partnership with our food regulatory partners.
 
For example, for many years we have conducted regular surveys of chemical contaminants, naturally occurring toxicants and food additives in the food supply. We also use nutrient data from a variety of sources and generate new analytical nutrient data. These data are made available in short reports and incorporated into publicly searchable database files. A key focus of this strategy is to further develop the microbiological evidence base to address emerging issues in microbiological safety.
The evidence base continues to contribute to the food regulatory system in a variety of ways and can also be used to support initiatives related to current ministerial priority areas to reduce foodborne illness and chronic disease related to obesity.
 
​Initiatives to achieve this strategic aim ​
Using external data sources, critiquing, validating and incorporating data to our evidence base​ We will continue to identify and gain access to relevant external data sources to incorporate into existing data sets and strengthen the evidence base. This may include harnessing information from jurisdictions and industry, due to the limited scope to generate our own analytical data through targeted surveys of the food supply.
Prioritising surveillance activities using collaborative partnerships where possible We will continue to carefully plan and prioritise surveillance activities and continually actively explore options for undertaking joint activities with other o–––rganisations to address gaps in the existing evidence base, so that the data we generate is relevant, of high quality, and provides the most value to our scientific assessments.
Working toward making data more accessible in the public domain
Where relevant, we will work toward making a greater proportion of our data holdings publicly accessible in formats that meet the specific needs of our various stakeholders. This will strengthen our role in the present food regulatory system as a trusted source of information on food.
Strengthening a microbiological evidence base for use in microbiological risk assessments ​We will plan and build a robust and contemporary microbiological evidence base for use in microbiological risk assessments by establishing systems and processes that enable the prospective identification, collation and analysis of evidence for existing and emerging areas of microbiological food safety.
  

Aim 2: Improve our data collection, storage, analysis and reporting systems

Scientific data are a core resource for us. In undertaking risk analysis, we require scientific data and other technical information that are relevant, current and of a high quality. It is therefore imperative that the systems we use to collect, collate, store, analyse and report these data are adequate to support our scientific work now and into the future. It is also essential that these systems are compatible with making more of our data and information available to external stakeholders. 

​Initiative to achieve this strategic aim ​
​Implementing our Data Management Strategy ​A key objective of the Data Management Strategy is to produce and deliver a centralised and secure data storage and management system, to meet our current and future needs. The benefits will be realised in performing risk analysis functions, in terms of better accessibility, analysis and reporting of data and scientific information that is of a consistently of a high quality. Other important objectives are to develop quality systems and protocols around accepting, validating and storing data; and to facilitate the development and training of staff in elements of data science, such as in modelling and statistics.
 

Strategic area 3: Collaboration

Partnering and linking

Aim 1: Develop and maintain productive partnerships with key national and international organisations

A key strategic goal for us is to leverage our work through networks of trusted experts and international counterparts.

The development of productive partnerships generates many benefits, including:
  • the ability to leverage work through networks of trusted experts and international counterparts
  • harmonised approaches to the analysis of food-related risks
  • greater capacity to fill information gaps and prevention of duplication of effort
  • more timely outcomes through working together and/or influencing others to undertake work in priority areas.
FSANZ also benefits in that we are able to enhance our profile as a trusted international expert and exert considerable influence on the strategic direction of a range of food regulatory science issues.
 
​Initiative to achieve this strategic aim ​
Leverage expertise, information and resources on food regulatory issues from key national and international organisations​
​We will actively review the range of national and international bodies currently involved in food regulatory science to identify any gaps, and focus on those with whom stronger strategic alliances should be developed in the future. Where appropriate, we will underpin identified key strategic established partnerships with memoranda of understanding that include action plans to nurture and sustain these partnerships.
 

Aim 2: Collaborate effectively with our stakeholders to share knowledge, advice and information

With an increasingly global food supply, and with the continual introduction of new and innovative foods and food processing practices, it is essential that we continue to collaborate widely with key stakeholder groups, both domestically and internationally. These include jurisdictional regulatory scientists, government agencies, universities and other academic and research institutions, the food industry, and consumers. As a small agency, the optimal depth and/or breadth of scientific expertise in a particular discipline may not always be available in FSANZ at any given time. Our links with these groups help us to share technical and scientific expertise, information and advice, including on emerging food safety issues.
 
While we recognise that all of our key stakeholder groups make important contributions to our consideration of food regulatory issues, for this science strategy, we have identified two stakeholder groups with whom we seek to strengthen links to improve our understanding of technical issues and enhance our access to scientific expertise in this current environment.
 
​Initiative to achieve this strategic aim ​
Building and maintaining collaborative relationships with key identified stakeholder groups
​We have identified indsutry, universities, research agencies and other academic institutions as our key stakeholder groups.

 

Industry

 
Collaboration with the food industry is particularly valuable to us, as industry experts can provide useful data, information and advice.
 
We will continue to build on our collaborative relationships with relevant sectors of the food industry, to improve our understanding of supply chains, industrial processes, manufacturing and food innovation, obtain data on food composition and reformulation, and have timely access to information on new technologies and food products, so as to contribute to our evidence base in this area.
 
Remaining abreast of innovative industry approaches enables us to contribute to the Ministerial forum priority in maintaining a strong robust and agile food regulation system, giving confidence to consumers that food is safe and the system can manage new and novel industry methodologies.
 
Universities, research agencies and other academic institutions
 
We will continue to strengthen our collaborative links with universities, research agencies and other academic institutions, as there are many such organisations, both nationally and internationally, with a high level of expertise and technical knowledge in scientific fields that are relevant to our work. One way in which we can strengthen our links with these organisations is by establishing initiatives such as a FSANZ intern or student program for graduates in key scientific areas. We will also look for opportunities to undertake collaborative research projects, take on teaching opportunities, and invite experts on to our scientific advisory groups.
 

Implementation and evaluation

We establish annual prospective implementation plans that provide details about the range of activities identified and specific deliverables for each strategic aim. Details about the initiatives implemented under previous science strategies are available on our website.
 
We developed performance measures to enable us to assess the implementation of the strategy and track the progression of activities in relation to the strategic aims. The performance measures relate to the 2016–20 science strategy; and each measure pertains to a strategic aim within a strategic area. Baseline information was collected in 2017, and future assessments will collect information at mid-term and final assessment periods.
 
The findings will be used to inform future versions of the science strategy, and activities in the annual implementation plans. The selected performance measures are summarised in Table 1.
 
Table 1: Selected performance measures
 
​Strategic area Strategic aim​ ​Aspect measured
Scientific capability
Improve scientific capacity and expertise. ​Skill set in relation to scientific fields.
Evidence Improve our data collection, storage, analysis and reporting systems.
Level of maturity of our scientific data collection, storage, analysis and reporting systems.
​Collaboration Collaborate effectively with our stakeholders to share knowledge, advice and information. Development and/or enhancement in our relationship with a limited number of priority stakeholders.
 

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